Closing Beresheet

The editor of the Talmud chose to place Tractate Chulin, literally meaning mundane, ordinary, inside the order of Kodashim, holy matters, which might have been his very (very!) subtle way of telling us how the two remain an inseparable part of each other, no matter what, a sort of a Jewish “Yin and Yang”.
The Book of Genesis began with a Torah portion called Beresheet, beginnings, and yet, while it describes how life comes into the world, it also introduces death. And, it ends with the Torah portion of Vayechi, and he lived, which includes with blessings for the future and thus, continuity, along with the death of two great leaders. Davka in Egypt, the foreign, idolatrous, land to which one goes “down”, the family is finally together, able to make a home where there is food and safety.
And so it goes.
We want simple answers: it’s always this way, always that way, but always – rarely works. We spend our days doing everything we can to add learning and gain understanding, and yet, time and again, we’re struck with things we have no way of comprehending. Maybe therefore it’s no wonder that freedom too has to be sought and found from within slavery. And on that, in the next book.

Up until this portion, people did not get sick. But now, for the first time, we’re told (Genesis 48:1): “Behold, your father is sick, so he took with him his sons… (to be blessed by Jacob). The midrash tells us that up until then, when it was time for a person to die, he would sneeze and his soul would depart from him, which might be the source for our custom to say, “bless you”, labri’ut, gesundheit etc etc…
The following is a(n imaginary 🙂 page from someone’s journal, used in my improve class last year. Guess who?

Meeting the family in Egypt was more exciting that words can describe, not only for Joseph, Jacob, the brothers and their growing families. After so many years of waiting, praying, longing; years I thought I’ll never see her again, suddenly, there she was. Slightly older but still just as beautiful as when she made heads turn as a young girl. My mom.
I remember the neighbors gossiping, their tongues like snakes hissing around us: it was all her fault, they’d say, she brought it on herself, her “mother’s daughter”, the “yatz’anit” – “the one going out”, referring of course, to that time grandma bought a night with her husband…
And my mom. The only daughter among 12 sons. She “went out” to visit with her girlfriends. Did she know? She must have known! Who didn’t know the handsome, charming, insistent prince whose father ruled the ancient city, who fell madly in love with her, who didn’t know what love even was, the one who was to be my father??
My father… I never met him. My two uncles got to him first, worrying more about the family’s honor than me growing up an orphan… were they justified braves or crazy fanatics?
And my grandfather. The one who was able to hold all these contradictions in his heart, the lonely, soulful giant amidst the big family, almost beaten down by his many loses…
When he found out that my mom was pregnant, he sent her to live in a small hut by a Canaanite village near Sh’chem, so his overly zealous sons wouldn’t kill me too. I remember the nights he’d sneak out to visit us, not much different from his own grandfather, sneaking out to visit his cast away son who was sent to the desert with his mom. He’d bring us goodies and we would sit around the small fire, my head in his lap, gazing at the stars, as he and mom told stories about our family’ journeys, humming old melodies while I dreamed of another life…
It was a hot day went I was out with the sheep, noticing my uncles in the valley below. They were yelling at each other, pulling something this way and that. Then I saw his colorful coat, blood dripping from it. Yes, I knew it was his. My mom told me all about it, and me, I just… already then, of course… but let me not get ahead of myself.
Much as they tried, it slowly became obvious that my life was in danger too, and that my mom won’t be able to protect me, just like Jacob was not able to protect his beloved son… With no father, no money, little sustenance, and a bad reputation, there was no future. After much deliberation, grandpa had me sent to Egypt, and a convoy of merchants took me to be a maid to Potifar’s wife…
That’s where we finally met, two Hebrew slaves in the palace, polishing someone else’s floor through our tears, trying to brighten our own dreams… At first we were scared, but unable to stay away from each other, we would sit at night, holding each other, talking in whisper, while the palace still, the breeze humming in the bulrushes and the full moon slowly rising over the Nile… Being a slave in a foreign land, all of a sudden was a blessing… it gave us time to enjoy the miracle that happened to us, finding each other again so far from home…
Then, one day… it was late afternoon. He was out in big yard, while I was walking behind Mrs. Potifar, trying to keep up with her, holding the heavy fan for her on her way to dinner, my arms straining. He looked up at me, and oh, one second of gazing in his beautiful eyes! My day was wonderful again, my arms light, no task too hard…
Unfortunately, I was not the only one who saw his look. She… for a moment I thought our secret was revealed, but she was too vain to think anything but about herself. So she thought his loving look was directed at her!! Silly, lonely woman!! She wished! “did you see that”? she asked me proudly. What could I say? From that day on, she pestered him even more, calling him to her chambers for no real reason, breaking things purposely, “needing” stuff that “only he could do”, screaming and yelling with her silly girlfriends, until… well, you know what happened…
More than two years he was in jail. I couldn’t do anything to get him out. But I did steal a small bucket which I filled with delicacies and lowered down to the dungeon… Sometimes, I would add a little message on papyrus, sit outside humming old melodies, gazing at the stars, once again dreaming of another life…
Then, one day, chariots were sent, and well dressed messengers carried fine linen, a change of clothing for him, what a commotion! Summoned back to the palace, he was asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and was quickly declared second to the king. That’s when I was finally given to him officially as a wife, a perfect match, another well trained, well behaved servant from the palace, a dime a dozen. Little did they know about our love…
I bore him two sons, Efrayim and Menashe, and while they grew up here in Egypt, we both taught them everything we know, so that one day, one day…
Last week, my mom finally arrived and this week, we took the boys to receive their grandfather’s blessing. I stood there as he crossed his arms over their heads, mumbling the scared words. I thought about our journey, and for the first time in many, many years, I let my tears roll down my cheeks and just cried.

From Joseph, King of Dream - movie

From Joseph, King of Dream – movie

This entry was posted in life and some, shabbat shalom, סיפורים קצרים, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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